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Address by Gerry Adams before the outcome of the vote on abstentionism (Resolution 162) was announced, Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Dublin, (2 November 1986)

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Address by Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin, before the outcome of the vote on abstentionism (Resolution 162) was announced, Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, Dublin, (2 November 1986)


"Yesterday at lunch-time myself, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty, John Joe McGirl and other members of this leadership met with some of the leading supporters of abstentionism.

The meeting was at our request and was in some cases the second meeting which we as individuals, again at our request, with some of these comrades. I won't name the people involved in order not to embarrass them. They know who they are. I wish to address them again and all other delegates who we haven't got talking to on a person to person basis. Yesterday's meeting, like the previous one, was to appeal to them not to leave Sinn Fein and not to walk out if the vote went against them. The vote has been counted now and what I have to say can have no bearing upon it. I hope that what I say does have a bearing on the attitude of anyone thinking of walking out.

I have asked Sean not to announce the vote for a few minutes until you all have the chance to reconsider your position. I don't know what way the vote has gone, but if it has gone in favour of the Ard Chomhairle I appeal to you all not to do anything you, or we, would regret. We have never tried to change anyone's personal principles. We all hold our own principles dearly. We only ask that you give us a chance. If the Ard Chomairle loses the vote we will accept it in a comradely fashion and will return to another Ard-Fheis with our proposal. We have had a good debate and we accept your verdict. I want to thank you all for your contributions. One delegate says he knows how the vote is going to go. He should take up fortune-telling. No-one can say it was a rigged vote or a rigged debate. It was an intelligent, educational and a comradely debate.

At yesterday's meeting the comrades we spoke to refused our requests not to leave. They told us that if they lose the vote that they would publicly walk out of this Ard-Fheis. Again I appeal to them not to do so. To my knowledge no cumann has mandated any delegates to walk out. No delegate here is here on his or her own initiative. All delegates represent not themselves but their cumann or comhairle ceantair. Unless they authorised us to walk out we have no authority to do so. This is a personal decision and must be seen as such. To suggest otherwise would be dishonest.

I am now reconciled to the fact that if you lose the vote some of you will leave us. I regret this but it is your choice not mine. You should not take such a decision in the heat of the minute. Such a decision should be given long consideration. Don't put yourselves on hooks or feel you are on a hook by what you have said here or in the past. Think about it, on your own and at length. If you then decide, or if you ignore this request and are going to leave this struggle, please do it in a republican and comradely fashion. To walk out publicly gives the establishment media the opportunity of running the headlines which hey may already have set - Sinn Fein Walk-Out ... Sinn Fein Splits.

Some comrades may leave us but we all know there is not going to be a split. Everyone here knows the army is united. Everyone here knows the vast majority of this party is united. We have more to unite us than to divide us. Those who walk out leave this struggle. There is going to be no bloodshed, despite what sections of the media are saying or promoting over this issue. We have been down that road before. We are not going down it again.

If we part, we part as friends in sadness and not in anger. The establishment is trying to create the imagery of a split in order to divide our base and to cause confusion.

Many of us already run the daily risk of loyalist assassinations. We can live, or die, with that. If however a British undercover squad moved in, because of our public lifestyles, there is little we can do. And if some prominent republican, God forbid, was shot dead by such a squad in the wake of a walkout, could we blame the general public if they saw this as part of yet another republican feud?

A walk-out helps nobody but our enemies. It creates the climate for British dirty tricks. If comrades feel the need to leave us, and if they feel the need to do this publicly, then tomorrow is the time to do it. Think hard on what I have said.

There are many visitors here. Some of you are ex-members of Sinn Fein. Some may have come here with a misguided view to bolstering the 'walk-out' numbers. No one with accreditation was denied entry to this Ard-Fheis. If some people couldn't get in, it was because there was no space, a good problem for Sinn Fein. Those lucky enough to get in were made welcome. You enjoyed our hospitality. Please don't insult us now.

Having said all that, if people wish to reject what I have said, so be it. I didn't shake hands with Ruairi for the benefit of the media. I did it to set an example to you all. I can do no more. If I bend backwards any further I'll go up my own arse. I have no intention of doing that. They should not be impeded, hassled or heckled on their way out. I appeal to those who are not leaving, to sit in silence and to facilitate comrades wishing to leave.

Then we can get on with the work of this Ard-Fheis. So for a minute or two let us all contemplate what I have said. Then, as the tension increases, Sean will announce the vote. Remember what I have said. Don't lead a walk-out or be lead into a walk-out. Don't in the emotion of the minute assist the British government dirty tricks department. Regardless of what opponents of the Ard Chomhairle motion think about me, I consider them to be comrades and good republicans. Ruairi O Bradaigh knows me long and well enough to know that. If people wish to resign from Sinn Fein, let them do so in a manner which will ensure that we have merely agreed to disagree, that we can still talk to one another when we meet again in the future. Take an example from Danny Gleeson. "I'm voting against the Ard Chomairle", he told me. "But I'm not walking out".

Take a minute or two to think about all that and then in the days ahead take your formal decision. I spoke at a protest demonstration, in West Belfast after the murder of John Dowries in West Belfast. Thousands and thousands and thousands of men and women marched in an awful silence. I explained to those people what a clenched fist salute means and we have seen many clenched fist salutes today. I explained that an open palm is divided into 4 fingers and a thumb. United it becomes a fist, and with or without a freedom-fighter's weapon, it is more powerful than an open palm because it is united. When I had finished those thousands of old men, old women, young boys, girls, IRA Volunteers and Sinn Fein members stood shoulder to shoulder with their clenched fists raised to the sky. They set an example for us. They, and others throughout the country are the people we represent. Let us not let them down. Think about what I have said. Do nothing in haste.

Bígí le chéile. Bígí aontaithe. Whatever way the vote goes let there be no triumphalism. Take a minute to think of all this. If the Ard Chomhairle loses the vote there should be no triumphalism. If it wins the vote there should be no triumphalism."


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